Breast Cancer, Acrylamid Linked by Dutch Study

Acrylamide, a chemical common in many foods has been associated with <"">breast cancer.  Acrylamide is a chemical that develops when carbohydrate-rich foods are fried, roasted, grilled, or baked at temperatures above 120°C.  The chemical is typically found in foods such as bread, chips, French fries, and coffee; tobacco smoking also generates substantial amounts of acrylamide.

“Animal tests have shown acrylamide to be a carcinogen but, until recently, no studies have demonstrated a link between acrylamide in foods and cancer in humans.  Ours is the first epidemiological study using biological markers for measuring acrylamide exposure and the first to report a positive association between acrylamide and breast cancer,” says Henrik Frandsen, senior scientist at the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark.

The study to which Frandsen referred consisted of 374 postmenopausal women who developed breast cancer and an additional 374 healthy women, who were added as control members.  All of the participants are included in the Danish Cancer Society’s “Diet, Cancer and Health” collaborative study.  That study enrolled 29,875 women 50 to 64 years of age in the time period from 1993 to 1997.

Previous studies were traditionally based on questionnaires related to food frequencies.  In this study, the scientists used biological markers which more accurately determined acrylamide levels ingested by the participants, something not done in other studies.  Also in this study, the women’s blood was tested for the level of acrylamide bound to hemoglobin in red blood cells.  The findings revealed a positive—or definitive—association between an increased acrylamide-hemoglobin level and the development of breast cancer, once adjustments were made for the participant’s smoking habits.  Research found that the risk of breast cancer doubles tenfold in the acrylamide-hemoglobin level that corresponds to the difference measured between those women with the lowest and those with the highest exposure.  The study also indicated a stronger link for estrogen receptor positive breast cancer—the sorts of cancer that are best likely to react to anti-estrogen therapies.

The study’s findings strengthen the concern that acrylamide is, in fact, carcinogenic in the quantities to which ordinary people are exposed normally through their diets.  In addition, the study also revealed that there is also a link between acrylamide in foods and both ovarian and endometrial cancers.  “It is, however, important to stress that neither study indicates an unambiguous association between acrylamide in foods and cancer.  It is, for example, uncertain whether the observed effect on breast cancer is instead related to other chemical compounds formed along with acrylamide during the heating of foods. Another uncertainty is whether some of the acrylamide originates from sources other than foods,” says Pelle Thonning Olesen, a scientist at the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark.  “Further research into the potential adverse effects of acrylamide is imperative before any definite conclusions can be drawn on the significance of the substance for cancer, in general.  At the same time, it emphasizes the importance of continuing the research and initiatives aimed to reduce acrylamide levels in the human diet,” adds Anne Tjønneland, chief physician at the Danish Cancer Society.

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